It was a busy week for me, so I found myself in what I’d like to coin an ‘Elvis Crunch’ (a situation in which a person needs to cram in Elvis movies around their hectic schedule).
I’d also like to present to the world, Elvis Crunch: Are You Hungry Tonight, the new breakfast cereal of champions! It’s one part Peanut Butter Crunch cereal, one part Nesquik banana milk, with bacon bits sprinkled on top! Try it and let me know how that goes for you.
Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966) | 91 min.
Having just been fired from his job as a pilot for rampant womanizing, Rick Richards (Elvis Presley) decides to return home to Hawaii in search of a new job. He first hits up his old friend Danny (James Shigeta) who’s also a pilot, but the only work Danny has for him is babysitting his four kids. Terrible songs with singing children ensue.
Rick pitches an idea to Danny that they both open a helicopter business for tourists. He says it’d be a surefire win, as he knows plenty of women working at hotels that could send him business. Danny is skeptical, mostly because going into business with a guy who gets fired for bangin’ chicks on the job is iffy. Rick promises he’s “a changed man” and goes to chat up some old flames to see if they’ll send him business. These girls mostly sass the hell out of him for his broken promises and flaky ways, but he sweet talks them into giving him one more chance.
Next thing you know, Danny agrees, and they open the aptly named Danrick Airways. They need a secretary, so Rick holds a casting call of models that only speak in innuendo one-liners. Danny, meanwhile, persuades fellow pilot and attractive lady Judy (Suzanna Leigh) to do the job instead. He also lends her a ring to appear married so that Rick doesn’t try to sexually assault her.
Business starts off strong until Rick accepts a job taking several uncaged dogs from one island to another. The dogs run amuck in his chopper and he almost crashes into several things. He arrives, finally, at the island, and they all pile out with messed up hair and large cartoon bandages to indicate struggle. Little does Rick know, one of the cars he ran off the road during this zaniness ends up belonging to the head of the Federal Aviation Agency.
The aviation bureau calls to complain and Danny finds himself having to pick up the pieces; he chews Rick out for it. Rick offers to take his daughter Jan (Donna Butterworth) on a helicopter ride while Danny’s gone, as a way to make it up to him. What he doesn’t mention is that he also picks up Lani (Marianna Hill) one of his hotel worker ex-girlfriends.
They spend the day at the beach, and when its time to go, Lani pouts. (Lani is a weird one—not only does she constantly writhe on Rick like a cat, but she’s got the emotional maturity of a five-year-old.) She takes the keys out of the helicopter and throws them into the sand. Her joke gets old quick once they realize they can’t find the keys, and thus, must spend the night at the beach. By this time, Danny is frantic that his daughter hasn’t returned, and sets out to find them. He finds them the next morning and tells Rick he hasn’t changed at all, and that their partnership is dissolved.
Rick flies back to collect his stuff and is super pissed. Judy calls him out on being a selfish arrogant prick and Rick continues to blame everybody but himself. He also gets served a grounding notification from the FAA for almost killing that guy and his wife in that car from earlier. Rick and Judy soon realize Danny and Jan have been missing for hours, and somebody should go look for them. Judy’s like, ‘hey, I also have a pilot’s license’, but Rick dismisses her—he volunteers to fly and risk having his license revoked instead.
Eventually, they find Jan and Danny, downed on some rocks, unharmed but for a broken leg Danny has sustained. They then opt to go to a luau in which every girl Rick’s been taking advantage of converges on him and takes him to town for being a creep. Rick also talks to the FAA guy and gets everything dismissed because the FAA guy likes the cut of Rick’s jib. He says he’s thrilled his wife is so scarred by the incident because now wont leave the house. Cue the big finale musical number.
Though this was a clear attempt to recreate the success of Blue Hawaii, I think Paradise Hawaiian Style is actually a better film. There are some really beautiful shots of Hawaiian resorts that I’m sure looked fantastic in theaters (the small screen just doesn’t do them justice). There are also some genuinely impressive helicopter stunts in fields, and some good splicing of helicopter noises with Hawaiian drums.
There’s also a much larger amount of actual Hawaiian people than in Blue Hawaii– the white people are the minority, which is more accurate to Hawaii’s actual population. Beyond the grass skirt and tourist style musical numbers, there are the women who work at the hotels, his partner Danny, and Danny’s mixed race family, all of whom were representative of modern Hawaiians. So, good job, film—no creepy ‘60s racism this time!
There’s a lot of creepy ‘60s sexism to make up for that, of course. They introduce Suzanna Leigh’s character well as the pilot of a private plane, only to ground her for the rest of the film and have her be put in her place continually. A few choice examples being Elvis asking her, “How do you like her job?” to which she replies, “I’d rather be doing what you’re doing.” Elvis, without missing a beat, says, “I don’t think you could take the strain” and walks off. Screw you, buddy. Then later, he forces her to pose in a bikini in front of the helicopter so he can take publicity photos. Thumbs down.
It’s certainly true to the character though, as Elvis is a total womanizer in this one. And when I say womanizer, I mean you get the sense that he’s slept with just about every girl in Hawaii. The way the women are portrayed and treated in the film is pretty obnoxious, but at least he gets what’s coming to him in that nobody in the movie trusts a damn word he says and his habit seems to cause him to lose his jobs left and right.
Best Song: The music is pretty lackluster in this one—a lot of forgettable ‘native Hawaiian’ songs, lazy rhymes (“feels great” with “50th state”) and terrible children’s songs inserted for no reason in this rather lascivious film. My favorite has to be “Dog’s Life,” a song in which Elvis is trying to pilot a helicopter while serenading dogs that are either trying to jump into his lap or bite his fingers off. According to an interview with Donna Butterworth, the absurdity of shooting this scene made Elvis lose his shit and he couldn’t stop laughing throughout. That ridiculousness, mixed with the blank expressions on these uncooperative dogs, definitely make this the best song in the film.
2 1/2 out of 5 Stars,
3 out of 5 Elvises
Spinout (1966) | 90 min.
Elvis finally got bitten by the Mod bug, and it is glorious looking—but, about as shallow as The Archies.
The movie opens with Mike McCoy (Presley) racing down the highway in his hotrod Cobra 427. A red Cobra pulls up next to him with a pretty lady behind the wheel. They end up having an impromptu race along the highway until Mike gets driven off the road and into a river. She stands on the bridge and tries to make small talk while he sits in the river and curses her out. Meanwhile, a mysterious blonde lady is watching him from the bushes with binoculars.
Cut to, Mike singing in a club with his band, which is made up of two dudes who were definitely from other Elvis movies but look the same so I can’t distinguish them, and a tomboy drummer Les (Deborah Walley). Mike is approached by local rich man and car enthusiast Howard Foxhugh (Carl Betz) about playing a private gig for his daughter. He promises Mike $5000 for just one song, and despite the fact that his other bandmates are falling over themselves to do it, Mike flat out refuses.
While driving away, Mike explains he refused to take the gig because he thought it would bring them too much publicity. You heard that right—Mike wants to avoid stardom, larger gigs and global success. This is because to him, that would mean he’d have to get married. All Mike wants to do is race cars and mack on chicks.
So, instead, they all go camping in these crazy popup tents that I’ve never seen before and now want to buy. And while Les cooks them dinner and complains about being seen as “one of the guys,” the mysterious blonde lady is back again, stalking him from some more bushes. Mike spots her, and walks up to her and asks her what her problem is. Turns out she’s Diana St. Clair (Diane McBain) an author famous for novels with titles like “The Mating Habits of the Single Male.” She tells Mike she’s writing a new novel on the perfect male, and he’s her model. Mike is caught between his sex drive and his flight instinct with this one—on one hand, she’s trying to seduce him Cougar style, and on the other hand, she’s saying she’s going to domesticate him. The next time they meet, she ends the conversation with “Bye, I’m going to marry you.” #ThingsMenLoveToHearWithin24HoursOfMeeting
Meanwhile, Howard Foxhugh, his bumbling assistant, and his daughter Cynthia (Shelley Fabares) sit around a table and discuss Mike. (Cynthia, of course, turns out to be the same girl from the first scene.) Her father exclaims, “He drives a Duesenberg, races a Cobra, and told me to go to hell. What a boy!” So they decide to pull rank and get all of Mike’s other gigs cancelled so that he absolutely has to play for Cynthia’s birthday. When Mike finds out, he’s fuming—but figures he’s might as well just do this $5000 song. (Boo-hoo.)
Mike shows up and is of course even angrier when he realizes who Cynthia is. He starts by serenading her sweetly and then immediately snaps into jerk mode, chewing her out for being a rich brat until she breaks down and cries. (Happy birthday!) She says she’s lonely and miserable and then Mike feels bad. He kisses her and hears wedding bells play in his head, and then runs away while saying the word “single” over and over.
But, Cynthia is just using him—she wants him to stick around so he can drive her Daddy’s sports car in an upcoming race. She uses reverse psychology and sends the cops to kick him out of town. This makes Mike decide to move in next door just to stick it to Foxhugh. He throws multiple pool parties and Cynthia shows up and tells Mike she’s going to marry him. As Mike tries to get away, his stalker Diana shows up and says she’s going to marry him. The race is on. His bandmates put their heads together and ask, “What takes a guy’s mind off girls? Cars.”
Foxhugh meets Mike at the track and Mike is super impressed with his fancy new golden sports car, so he agrees to drive it in the race. But once Foxhugh finds out his daughter is trying to marry Mike, Foxhugh backs out. Meanwhile, the cop that tried to kick them out of town shows up at Les’ kitchen, slaps her on the ass, and then asks her out on a date. Plus, Diana is there, waiting for Mike to get home so she can offer him a drink and a massage. A ‘60s dance party is then thrown to get Mike away from her.
At the party, Diana pulls Foxhugh over and tells him to get rid of his daughter. He recognizes her and tells her she can do better than a loser like Mike. Cynthia shows up at the party to pursue Mike, followed by her bumbling assistant who confesses his love for her. At the same time, drummer Les decides to proclaim her love for Mike by dressing up like a ‘real lady.’ Mike now has three marriage proposals, so he decides to go do that race to avoid all this nonsense.
Mike wins, and everyone descends on him. “Who you gonna marry?” “I’m gonna marry all of them,” he replies. The scene suddenly jumps to Mike in a tuxedo, saying directly to the camera “And I did.” He’s shown kissing each bride on the lips before giving them away to their respective suitors. In the end, Mike is still single, but now he has a double-neck guitar and a sweet velvet blazer.
This movie was pretty stupid, but Elvis’ in some fly-ass three-piece suits with a silk ascot kind of made up for it. The ending was also nuts, breaking the fourth wall in order to wink at the audience, but it did bring a level of self-awareness to the film that actually made it more enjoyable. Plus, bonus points for this being one of the few Elvis movies that doesn’t end with him getting the girl! Ultimately though, it’s another one where I don’t understand why 80% of the film is just Elvis in clubs or at parties instead of Elvis on the goddamn speedway. It’s called Spinout—lets just go full-on Speed Racer with this one, people.
Elvis looks like he’s gained weight in this one—kinda puffy around the face. Nevertheless, his womanizing game is strong. Pretty sure he kisses every single woman on screen in this one. No brawling for once, but he does get to say some terrifying things. He’s at his best when threatening Cynthia, saying he’s going to “paddle that bottom until it’s as red as that jalopy you’re driving.” He also childishly bullies her later on by imitating her voice but in a shitty tone, and telling her she’s what’s wrong with America. This, of course, after his admitting that all he wants to do is never achieve anything, race cars, and bang women. (A 31-year-old man’s hopes and dreams, ladies and gentlemen.)
All in all, I can’t believe Theodore J. Flicker co-wrote this—definitely one you’d want to keep off your resume. But, if you want to see some 60’s-tastic outfits, and Elvis surrounded by bikini-clad women at pool parties doing The Jerk, you won’t be disappointed.
Best Song: The music starts out strong but goes downhill, unfortunately. My favorite song was “Adam and Evil,” mostly because I like songs that use the word “evil” in them. But do check out the ‘60s ridiculousness of the title track, “Spinout,” while you’re at it.
2 out of 5 Stars,
2 1/2 out of 5 Elvises